Soap-making to Combat Child Marriage in Zimbabwe

A microproject by The Advocacy Project
Soap-making to Combat Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Soap-making to Combat Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Soap-making to Combat Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Soap-making to Combat Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Soap-making to Combat Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Soap-making to Combat Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Soap-making to Combat Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Soap-making to Combat Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Soap-making to Combat Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Soap-making to Combat Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Soap-making to Combat Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Soap-making to Combat Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Soap-making to Combat Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Soap-making to Combat Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
Jubilation in Epworth after a soap sale
Jubilation in Epworth after a soap sale

This report is going to 58 friends who have donated through GlobalGiving to our appeals for the Women Advocacy Project (WAP) in Zimbabwe. These appeals have raised $5,052 for WAP since 2018. Thank you!

When we last reported to you in July the pandemic was on the rise in East Africa. In the weeks since, the threat has somewhat receded. As of writing, Zimbabwe has recorded 9,950 cases of infection and 276 deaths, which is well below what was predicted. But a price has been paid in the poorer communities of Harare where the lockdown has been harshly enforced. We’ll have more on that in a moment.

Background: Poverty and Early Marriage

This project was launched in 2018 to address the crippling poverty that forces families in Zimbabwe to marry their daughters off to older men. Fully one third of all girls in Zimbabwe marry before the legal age of 18.

Helped by Alex, an AP Peace Fellow from Columbia University, WAP hit on the idea of asking several girls to serve as “ambassadors against child marriage.” Evelyn was elected as ambassador for the community of Chitungwiza, and Trish was chosen to head the team from Epworth. WAP established girls’ clubs in both communities and began to reach out to girls who were at risk from early marriage.

In the summer of 2019 the program moved from outreach to income-generation. We deployed a second Peace Fellow – McLane from the Fletcher School at Tufts – to help WAP train 40 girls to produce soap. The girls came up with their own brand name – Clean Girl – and began to sell their soap at stores, known as Tuck Shops. By year’s end they had sold 6,041 liters for $4,365. We captured some of the excitement in this video profile of Evelyn. They were off to a good start!

COVID-19 Strikes

We described the challenge from COVID-19, and WAP’s response, in our July report. Desperate to keep the virus at bay, the Zimbabwean authorities imposed a harsh lockdown on inner-city neighborhoods. Small traders, like Evelyn’s father, were prevented from selling in the usual places. Families were barred from markets. People were fined for not wearing masks. Food ran short and tempers rose.

WAP responded heroically. Dickson, WAP’s program manager, produced 1,500 bottles of soap from his home. Constance, the founder and director of WAP, made almost 1,900 facemasks on her sewing machine, in between multiple power cuts.

The girls bundled up the soap and masks into emergency packages and added maize and cooking oil (also purchased with your donations). Heavily masked, they then distributed the packages to vulnerable families and medical clinics. WAP photos show the girls knocking on doors, urging families to wear masks and use soap. They are some of the most inspiring images to reach us this year.

Depicting The Pandemic Through Embroidery

In July, during the height of the pandemic, we asked Constance if the girls would like to describe the impact of COVID-19 through embroidery. They had learned to stitch the previous year and produced a wonderful quilt about early marriage that was exhibited at the ICPD25 UN summit in Nairobi (November 2019). We thought they would welcome the chance to put their skills to use again.

The girls jumped at the idea and attended several carefully controlled, masked, stitching sessions. Their finished blocks describe a society under siege. In one scene, thieves loot a store. In another, police prevent women from collecting water. Vimbai’s block depicts domestic violence. The prize for best design went to Bybit, whose block showed people being arrested for not wearing a mask.

One thing is clear from their art: if the impact of COVID-19 has been savage, the same can be said of the response.

Resuming Soap Production, Building A Business

As the threat from COVID-19 has receded, WAP has resumed making Clean Girl soap. Between September and December the project expects to produce 4,500 liters of soap. Half of the earnings goes to the girls, who are taking home around $22 a month. (This may not seem much but it is equivalent to half the monthly income of some families.) None of the girls has married since 2018. Simply put, the project is meeting its goals under the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

Looking further ahead, what began as an inspiring startup in 2018 is evolving into a sustained business. This has been made possible by the motivation of the girls, by the professionalism of the WAP team, by your donations and by generous grants from Action for World Solidarity in Berlin and Rockflower.

Production: WAP has invested in a solar-powered generator, which will allow for uninterrupted production, and a mechanical stirring machine, which has increased the amount of soap being made.

Marketing: The soap is now packaged and sold in six-packs, at a small discount. The number of stores buying Clean Girl soap is growing and orders are coming in from outside Harare. WAP has received government authorization to add a bar code to the label, which will allow the soap to be sold at supermarkets. Expanding the market is priority #1 for 2021.

Professionalism: WAP’s management and communications skills have improved dramatically. Dickson updates the WAP website and has become an accomplished videographer. In October, he produced two hours of video footage which was edited by our team in the US into a delightful film that shows WAP girls haggling with good-humored shopkeepers. “(Your soap) smells good!” says Mr. Example, owner of the Example Trading Store. “It is almost like sunlight!”

Donor support: WAP has been rewarded for this good work with a major grant from Dining for Women (DFW), the US-based network of women’s clubs. WAP will be the featured grantee in March 2021 and hopes to meet plenty of DFW chapters on Zoom!

More beneficiaries: With this new grant from DFW, WAP’s budget has grown from around $5,000 in 2018 to over $40,000 in 2021. This will allow WAP to expand the soap program to two more communities, Waterfalls and Mbare, and benefit 40 more girls and their families.

Your investment has certainly paid off!

With profound thanks and best wishes for a safe and enjoyable holiday.

The WAP and AP teams

Mixing soap is hard work!
Mixing soap is hard work!
Tanatswa, right, is a skilled soap-maker
Tanatswa, right, is a skilled soap-maker
Trish supplies a tuck shop with Clean Girl soap
Trish supplies a tuck shop with Clean Girl soap
WAP girls describe the pandemic through embroidery
WAP girls describe the pandemic through embroidery
Lisa's square shows looters during the lockdown
Lisa's square shows looters during the lockdown

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WAP girls learn to make Clean Girl soap in Harare
WAP girls learn to make Clean Girl soap in Harare

This report is being sent to everyone who has supported the work of our partner in Zimbabwe, the Women Advocacy Project (WAP). So far, 36 donors have given $4,131. Thank you!

As we have pointed out in our previous report, one third of all girls in Zimbabwe marry under the age of 18, in violation of the law and at great risk to their health. WAP’s director, Constance, is determined to put an end to this, and she has selected several dynamic young women to serve as “girl ambassadors” against child marriage. Each ambassador is responsible for managing a club where girls learn about reproductive health and the risks of early marriage. Their efforts seem to be paying off: not one of the 150 participants has married since the trainings began last year.

Poverty is one of the driving forces behind early marriage, and early in September WAP launched a soap training program for 30 girls in the community of Chitungwiza. The goal was to provide their families with an economic incentive to resist the pressure to marry. Using your donations and a grant from Germany, WAP hired a professional trainer, Mr Paul, and purchased protective clothing, equipment, and material. The girls provided a snappy brand name for their soap – “Clean Girl.” Two ambassadors – Evelyn from Chitungwiza and Trish from Epworth – coordinated the training.

Over the past month, Mr Paul has given weekly trainings at the house of a WAP friend, as shown in the photo. Some of the girls, who have dropped out of school, have told WAP that they will use anything they may earn to enroll again.

Clean Girl is household soap and not of a particularly high quality. But these are early days and the program is off to a quick start. The trainees produced 180 liters during the first month. Each girl was asked to find 10 recycled bottles (most of which were provided by Pepsi) and this saved some money. In the end, each half-kilo bottle of soap sold for about $1.50.

This will not be enough to cover the production costs and produce a decent income after the donations run out, but that lies in the future. WAP’s priority at present is to lay a strong foundation by improving the quality of soap and putting an efficient and transparent process in place. The soap is sold by five confident girls who take the bottles to local “Tuck Shops” and make their sales pitch. Like any good businesswomen, they keep invoices and hand the money over to WAP for safe-keeping. (Banks charge $20 a month, which is beyond WAP’s means for the time being.) AP will visit in November and offer suggestions.

Meanwhile, on a separate but related note, we have been asked by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to exhibit advocacy quilts at a major international conference in Nairobi next month. The Conference (ICPD25) will mark the 25-year anniversary of the ground-breaking 1994 Cairo meeting on population and development.

Early marriage will be on the agenda, and we have commissioned a quilt on child marriage from the girls of WAP. Their embroidered squares are powerful, as you can see from the photos. One, by Kundai, shows an orphan girl being forced by her guardian to marry an old man to pay off the cost of her upbringing. The other squares are equally graphic. Constance will attend the conference and use the quilt to publicize WAP's work before an international audience.

Much of this success is due to the effforts of our two Peace Fellows who have worked at WAP - Alex (2018) and McLane (2019). This past summer McLane put up with endless power cuts and breakdowns to raise over $1,500, write proposals and coordinate the making of the embroidered squares. Like Alex she showed that graduate students can be extraordinarily effective at launching innovative startups for social change.

We’ll have more news from the Nairobi conference and the soap-making in Harare in our next report!

In gratitude

Iain and the AP team.

Clean Girl labels are attached to soap bottles
Clean Girl labels are attached to soap bottles
Mr Paul trains WAP girls to make soap
Mr Paul trains WAP girls to make soap
Constance from WAP with the finished product!
Constance from WAP with the finished product!
Kundai uses embroidery to denounce child marriage
Kundai uses embroidery to denounce child marriage
Domestic violence, depicted by Lynn
Domestic violence, depicted by Lynn
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Organization Information

The Advocacy Project

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @AdvocacyProject
Project Leader:
Iain Guest
Washington, DC United States

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